Refelctions on Joseph

Last time, I considered what Matthew 1:18-25 said concerning Mary.  Today, I’d like to focus on Joseph.

          A.    JOSEPH WAS JUST (v. 19)

Matthew’s first comment is that Joseph was a “just” or “righteous” man.  Now, all of us know what justice is—it’s getting what we deserve.  God is just.  His laws are just.  He insists that we be just.  But what does this mean?  How does it look?

1104485To answer this, I want you to consider that when God establishes rules for the administration of justice, it is with an eye toward ensuring that one’s punishment does not exceed his crime.  That is, when God lays down the principle of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life,” He is imposing a ceiling on punishment.  We may not justly take the life of someone who has stolen property.  But God, by His insistence on justice, never prohibits mercy.  Indeed, God is both just and merciful, and He insists that we “remember mercy, even in judgment” just as He does.  Consider how His judgments are just, and His justice is always merciful:

“Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!” Isa. 30:18

“But you must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always.” Hos. 12:6

“This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.'” Zech. 7:9

“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Mic. 6:8

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” Matt. 23:23

So it should not surprise us, then, that when we find Joseph identified as a “just” man, it is not in the context of this man seeking every legal recourse to vindicate himself against Mary, who appears for this moment to have been unfaithful, to have besmirched his name and sullied his reputation.  Note how Joseph’s righteousness is demonstrated.  He had the right to feel hurt.  It appeared he had been wronged, and he had a right to see Mary shamed and punished for this wrong.  But even before the angel spoke to him and explained, he had no desire to execute judgment.  Rather, his desire was to show mercy.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Matt. 5:7 (NIV)

James points out the obverse, then sums up this great truth in four words: “Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment! James 2:13

Nothing is so unjust as justice without mercy.

          B.      JOSEPH WAS CONSIDERATE (v. 20)

Matthew also notes that Joseph was a considerate man.  While this is certainly intertwined with his justness, it is also distinguishable.  Joseph was a just man, and therefore unwilling to disgrace Mary.  But he had to contemplate how to achieve justice while showing mercy.  He had to work through the nuances.  How would this look for Mary?  What would become of her?  What of her family?  And so it was that the angel came to him “as he was considering these things” (v. 20).

How easy it is to lay aside any deliberation, any contemplation, when we feel wronged.  It seems that we want justice for others, though mercy for ourselves.  And when we want justice, we want it now, while passions are high and the sting of the wrong is still sharp.  This is a spirit which leads to vigilantism in societies and which leads to rash judgment in individuals, the very kind of judgment that Jesus warned us against.

How often have I been guilty of this?  How often have I perceived a wrong, only to realize on further reflection that I misunderstood?  Or how often did I administer discipline for an actual wrong, only to realize that in my haste, I prescribed a punishment that exceeded the crime? 

True justice comes reflectively, not reflexively.

          C.      JOSEPH WAS FAITHFUL (v. 24)

Finally, Matthew tells us that Joseph was faithful, obedient to God’s will.  “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.”

This is one of those passages that is so easy to skim over and move on without taking in the picture.  But slow down for just a minute and put yourself in Joseph’s sandals.  Your fiancé is pregnant.  You’re not the father.  Who is?  Mary says the baby has no human father.  That’s hard for even you to believe, and you’re sure the neighbors aren’t buying it.  You know they think you’re the father, and that’s what they’ll always think.  Your reputation is shot.    The wedding is off.  Your dreams for your family and your future are dashed.  You want to do damage control, but that’s tough.  And on top of it all, your heart is broken.  All of this is weighing on you so heavily that sleep is hard to come by.  Finally, exhausted, you do drift off to sleep.  And in this punctuated sleep, you dream.  In your dream, an angel says, “It’s OK Joseph.  God is this baby’s father!”  And you wake up and … do what?  Say to yourself, “Oh, that explains it!”??

As hard as it may have been for Mary to say “yes” to God’s plan, she had one advantage.  She knew with absolute certainty that she was telling the truth, that this baby was immaculately conceived.  But Joseph?  How could he know with such certainty?  Would this implausible explanation, from an angel in a fitful dream, be enough to convince him?  Would it be enough to convince you?

But you see, “faith is … being certain of what we do not see.  This is what the ancients were commended for” (Heb. 11:1).  And Joseph, like the ancients, was a man of faith.

Are we people of real faith?  Can we believe in a God so powerful that He simply spoke the cosmos into existence?  Can we look at the hell we see all around us and still believe in heaven?  Can we open our eyes to this war-torn, sin-sick planet and still believe in the perfect Kingdom yet to come?  Can we struggle through the difficulty of connecting with God, and still believe that we will one day walk with God in the cool of the evening as did Adam?

Yes, we can.  By faith, we can grasp what we do not now see.  And the reason for that faith?  Why, it’s the same reason Joseph had.  It’s that baby in Mary’s womb.

Father, in my life let mercy rejoice over judgment, let consideration prevail over haste and harshness, and let me walk by faith, not by what I see.

gkr1996 posted at 2009-12-8 Category: Uncategorized